Sole Destroying Yambol

Bulgarian sandals are very cheap, look fantastic but not designed for walking on the Yambol footways. They don't last long with the state of the pavements as I found out walking around Yambol town last night.

It all started with a little parting of the sole towards the heel, the as each 100 metres was completed the parting got larger and turned into a flap. This of course added extra weight on each step up to aid the tear further and finally the whole sole parted company with the upper leaving me 2 kilometres away from home and all the shoe shops shut.

Walking home in a sandal minus the sole was difficult on the Yambol cobblestones and the jagged paving stones that just catch you suddenly in areas of complete darkness this Yambol night. I should have got a taxi home but this is Bulgaria and the cost of 2 leva is totally unnecessary in Bulgarian women's minds as they helped me walk back.

We got there and the sandal material which equated to a sock, held out, just. But at only a few leva a new pair of sandals would probably be about the same cost of the taxi home if we had got it. Oh no, I've just thought, it's another trip to the shops tomorrow. The last time we went to look for a pair of sandals, we visited 10 shops before finding the right pair, that's why they were such a good deal first time round. I just hope we go to the tenth shop first this time and that they have the same stock as last time.


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Bulgarian Fish and Chips

Another evening out last night with a friend of Galia. She is just as keen on fashion Galia is as all three of us walk into Yambol town at around 7:00 in the evening.

It is not often we see the town this time of the day as I was surprised that is was swarming with people of all generations. Most of the background noise was coming from the rented out little electric children's cars with their hard black plastic types rumbling along in and out of the crowds. It was a free for all traffic jam but no one was bothered with the inconvenience of having to avoid erratic steering of children as young as three driving unaided. It was very entertaining sitting there watching them for half and hour.

Why was I sitting watching them for half an hour? Galia and her friend were in a clothes shop looking for dresses, skirts and anything that tickled their fancy. I knew they wouldn't buy anything, they rarely do, they just love feeling and touching the clothing they can't afford.

So half an hour literally I waiting watching the Yambol folk walk, talk and enjoy the summer evening atmosphere. I remember before most families go for a walk in the town or park before their evening meal. That's exactly what we were doing but most clothes shops were still open after 7:00.

During this time I saw many unique Bulgarian happenings, in fact too many happenings they come and go so quick. One I particularly remember was a balloon seller. His wares are tied tot a fold up chair, as I looked closer he carried around with him a big chunky rock which is placed on the chair. It must weight around 5-10 Kg and placed there purely and simply to stop the chair toppling over with the balloons tied on the backrest being blown in the wind

The girls finally finished and it was now after 7:30, as we made a walk around town, this time just looking in the windows at goods but never stopping talking.

We finally stopped at a restaurant, we’d been to this once before and had fish and chips Bulgarian style. The same was about to happen with an added guest. This is also a stopping place for cats and dogs who get food thrown at them towards the end of most customer's meals. This is normal with restaurants in Yambol.

So, the talking continued but this time over food and beer, we didn't leave until gone 10:00. the place was just livening up with the night life coming into play, but we were too old for that tonight as we made out way back home.

The stars can be clearly seen in the black sky in Yambol and just a reminder of how unpolluted this region is.

A lovely evening and it made a change from sitting facing a computer all evening, in fact I think that's why Galia decided on this evening's plan, she says I work too hard and need a break.



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Ironing Things Out Bulgarian Style

Early morning, we had just woken up to the bright blue sky and ever ripening grapes seen looking out of the window that had remained open all night. “Happy 2nd Anniversary” was whisper to Galia as I gently kissed her on the cheek. “Blagodariya” was the soft reply and a return of a kiss. It was exactly 2 years now since first meeting Galia but to both of us it felt like a lifetime that we’d had together.

We made our way to do the routine things we do on a working day expect there was one extra thing today that had to be done, a bus had to be ironed, it had travel back from the Skalitsa Farmhouse and had been creased in transit. This woman and most other Bulgarian women must have a perfectly prepared set of clothing before setting to town in a public view. “I am not a village woman Martin!” would be her comment when I say it doesn’t matter.

So while Galia’s back was turned I go the iron out and was about to iron her blouse, it was always me that did the ironing in the UK so I though nothing of it this morning. I was caught in the act of ironing with Galia reacting on sight with a great intake air into her lungs before forcefully saying that it was not normal for a man to do the ironing in this country and that I was to give the iron to her. She went on to tell me that I didn’t understand how the iron worked or how to use the iron.

Regardless of my effort to explain that I did understand and knew how to iron from my past, it was falling on deaf ears. Galia refused to believe that a man could ever understand the complexes of the iron so I left it like that. I really felt quite insulted about trying to help and getting this agitated response. But then Galia probably feels just as insulted by me taking up something that she and most other women in Bulgaria do as a custom.

So I left it like that, “I’m glad we ironed that one out,” I said. But Galia didn’t get it, the pun doesn’t translate very well in Bulgarian.



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The Bulgarian Boiler Saga

It has been two and a half years since the boiler in my farmhouse had been installed and in that time it has roughly been used for about half that time. So when it broke down I was very surprised, it still looked brand new and I couldn’t understand why this happened.

Both Galia and I were staying in the Skalitsa farmhouse for three or four days, still cleaning the place after English guests when this happened. There was a little ‘pop’ and water started pouring out of the bottom of the 40 litre boiler. We knew at this stage that it would cost money whatever happens. Either a repair bill or a new boiler, it was my opinion that a new boiler was needed, but that’s just my English way of thinking the worst. Galia was sure that this could be repaired for two reasons. The first, she is Bulgarian and that’s what they do here. The second and more convincing reason from where I was standing, was her brother has a boiler business where he designs and makes them for the whole of Bulgaria and for export. He was probably the most knowledgeable person in the whole of Bulgaria when it comes to boiler systems and Galia works at the factory it the office. What a stroke of luck.

Let’s go back to the problem in hand in the farmhouse bathroom. The only way we could stop the water was to turn it off from the main stop tap in the garden, the little stop tap under the boiler turned off but not fully so there was still water seeping into the boil. We couldn’t drain the system unless this was cut off, so it was no water in the house until the boiler had been drained and the inlet pipe sealed off. Of course we didn’t realise that the little tap didn’t stop the flow fully until 24 hours later when we knew that we’d probably drained 400 litres at this point.

So the boiler was finally drained after cutting all the water off and the local hardware stored visited for a plug nut to fit to seal the inlet pipe coming into the bathroom. This worked and the wait was on to get the boiler repaired or replaced. It was man handled into the Lada for the 35 km trip to Yambol and the boiler factory. I was still convinced that a new system was needed.

The next day the boiler was dropped off to the factory, the wait was on to see whether a fix could be made. Luckily we didn’t have any guests booked in the farmhouse, we would have had to cancel due to no hot water. We manage fine without it but non Bulgarian tend to expect the full works, even with 25% discount which would have been given in view of this.

The Friday came and we picked the boiler up which was apparently repaired. There was a whole bucket of black residue from inside the boiler and the heating elements had to be replaced along with the emergency pressure tap. The cost, 30 leva, we were not charged for the service, it was a family affair.

On the way back to the farmhouse we had to buy another flexi pipe and stop valve as the previous one had snapped and expired the previous week when dismounting the system. So another 6 leva for these bits and it was Skalitsa bound with hope of a hot shower in the air.

Within the hour the system was up and running, although the little stop valve had to be omitted due not being able to screwed flush to the wall as the on/off mechanism just got in the way. Like before the stop tap would have to be operated from the main stop valve in the garden. Success? Yes we both had a hot shower that evening and another in the morning.

Was this the end of story? No Sunday the system broke down again it looks like the thermostat has blow a fuse, so it is back to Yambol to buy a new one. The thermostat was non repairable as it was a sealed unit. We would have to wait another week before we return and try again.

The thermostat part was bought for 15 leva but again there was no guarantee that this was the part that was broken. I use my best diagnosis to guess the waiting game still went on to Friday evening.

The first thing I did when arriving at the farmhouse was insert the thermostat and a jump for joy was made as the whole system finally worked perfectly. That evening we both had a lovely hot shower and the whole episode over. This weekend was the first since the spring that we had stayed there and had electric, running water and hot water throughout the weekend. Relax we did.

Galia was calling me a maestro plumber and electrician all weekend, she thinks because I am English and led a sheltered life in the UK I know nothing about plumbing or electric. She is half right. The boiler saga over and I am that much wiser with it.

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Green for Danger

There is change in Bulgaria, things are now getting more streamlined ever day, with the Europe tag now firmly attached to Bulgaria, it is inevitable these things are happening. But not just yet!

Since 2005 I have been frequenting Yambol town and on the very first visit here I noticed that the dangers for pedestrians on the road was a concern. You had to have eyes at the back of your head to survive crossing roads. It wasn’t so bad then; traffic on the roads was quite rare, no traffic jams, mainly jalopy cars trundling along, you needn’t look for them coming, you could hear them coming. It was still a danger with the odd Mafia owned BMW, Mercedes or Audi thinking they own the road, (well actually they do!)

The biggest danger is in trusting the Yambol traffic light system. It is a simple matter of not taking any notice of the instructions given by the lights to cross the road; use your own ears and eyes looking for traffic instead, it is far safer that way. I will explain.

There is a crossroads with traffic lights with a built in pedestrian set of lights with the red and green man telling you to cross or not to cross. Added to this is the sound of beeping, another signal that is telling the pedestrian to cross. This is a booby trap for as the green man lights up and the beeping blares out, you step into the road and a stream of cars come whizzing round the corner as they also have had a green light to tell them to go.

What we have here is a system that tells cares to drive on and pedestrians to walk on. A recipe for disaster, but as far as I know there hasn’t been any accidents there for ages as both driver and pedestrian know that’s how the light work and use their initiate to avoid collision. I see it every day where both pedestrian and driver proceed with caution on that very crossroad.

Some would argue that it would be safer without traffic lights if their purpose of safety is contradicted. During out of peak hours the lights are switched off and a free for all is licensed out. This is just as safe as all traffic and pedestrians look out for each other, in fact it his is safer for newcomers unaware of the fault of the system.

It seems that in Bulgaria, whatever is laid out for them to protect them they will still use their built in system to survive by carry on doing it their own way, the way it has always been done. Crossing the road is no exception, how many times to a see people just step out into the road expecting the cars to stop for them? Countless, but on each occasion the car does stop; what’s more, in the main, they accept that pedestrians rule in town!

At the end of the day, this is normal in Bulgaria. I have often asked Galia why these lights are not fixed; after all they been faulty throughout the time I’ve been here. She just shrugs her shoulders saying it’s not important; we crossed the road safely didn’t we? Well, that the answer I should expect from a Bulgarian. She is probably thinking why does he ask these questions anyway?

Red for Go in Bulgaria

As we approached the first set of traffic lights they turned red. Slowing down Ivan said, “Go! Go!” The lights were firmly red as he continued to tell me to drive through them, as there was no traffic and no police around. So off I go turning right after jumping a red light feeling quite guilty about it.

Ivan explained after that everyeone did this, if the way was clear and no police were about what is the problem, what harm it is doing. He went on to say that the police would not even bother picking on red light runners as long as it was safe, the police do it as well.

It is one thing to jump lights in town but the silly thought came over as to why they don’t have traffic lights in the villages? Just a moment of stupidity with that thought for one fleeting moment I could see all the villagers jumping red lights as they are a law unto themselves. Then within a few seconds I realised how stupid that thought was; there is no traffic in villages!

Ivan was quite proud of me calling me a true Bulgarian driver having taken his advice. He said it saves time, fuel and other cars behind me that followed would think I am Bulgarian not English. Well, that little consolation fro me really as Galia just sat there with a grin on her face, but it didn’t give away whether she thought it was right or wrong. But then she has told me to drive the wrong way up one-way streets before now!

4 Eggs

It is the lack of free thought and doing things that make sense that caught me by surprise on this beautiful weekend in Skalitsa with Galia and Poliya her cousin. They came here after work on Friday evening joining up with me for a weekend of total relaxing with music, food. drink and dance.

It was Saturday evening when Poliya started to get together all the ingredients needed for a meal of baked rabbit and potatoes with honey based pancakes. It came to pass that everything was there, yes, including the rabbit that was caught and skinning in Yambol, except for the eggs. She presumed because we live in the village with chickens everywhere you look that eggs needn’t have been bought for this weekend. She was almost right but I had used the last two for the Skalitsa Banitsas I made earlier that morning, and were they delicious.

So, no eggs and the shop just a stone’s throw away could I go and get some. This was such a simple request but brought about a major rethink about how most of us have been controlled by the commercialism and how you think.

I asked how many eggs she wanted but the only reason was to find out whether I should buy 6 or 12 eggs. Poliya said that she only wanted 4 for the pancake dish so the question was answered; I was to get half a dozen as I started making my way down to the shop.

It was only 10 metres down the road and walking amongst all the free range animals, running, grazing or flying when a sudden though from this English head of mine. Why the hell do I want to buy six eggs, Poliya only want four for the recipe? Then another thought can to mind. What would happen to the other two eggs? I knew exactly what would happen to them, they would remain in the fridge for another week until another egg based recipe, in each case more than two would be required and anther six would be bought!

Why buy six! It was a life of being brought up on marketing standards, eggs come in dozens, and in England you can’t buy less than six! That is ridiculous, what a fool am I to fall for this time and time. In Bulgaria, if I want one egg I can buy it, that is normal.

With this I bought four eggs brought them back and another step forward into freethinking and away from institutionalised ways

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Shopska Salad Recipe

I really don't know why I did put this recipe in before now. It has to be one of the best foods in in the world. The Bulgarian household that I am fortunate enough to be living in has this often and is always the best treat you could ever have especially with vast varieties of home made rakia to accompany. the Rakia comes into the household from all quarters of the community. Check out http://therakiasite.com for a bit more about this.

Description

Shopska salads are unique to Bulgaria with wonderfully complementary ingredients that make the perfect salad for every occasion. Shopska salad got its name many years ago from a local community called Shopi living around Bulgarian capital Sofia. The Shopi are credited with developing the original recipe.

Ingredients:


400 g red tomatoes
1-2 fresh cucumbers (about 200 g)
1 small hot pepper
150 g white cheese (sirene)
2 medium onions
4 medium green peppers
A few olives
A bunch of parsley
Sunflower oil
Red wine vinegar
Salt

Preparation:

Peel and chop the onions finely. Clean and remove the stem and the seeds of the green peppers (can be used with or without the skins), then slice into small rectangles.

Chop up the hot pepper and cucumber into more rectangles and mix everything together in a big serving bowl. Add salt and mix again.

Form a mountain of salad in the bowl or divide onto individual plates or small bowls. Grate or finely chop the sirene over the salad to form of an impression of a snow-capped mountain.

Garnish with one single olive on the top with a few parsley leaves.

Finally, add sunflower oil, vinegar and salt to your own taste before mixing and tucking in.

Notes:
This recipe has a versatility that is second to none. It can be served up on any occasion, even at the start or the end of a meal or in many cases just on its own.

When this dish is served to Bulgarian guests, it is good to serve Rakia and Ayran alongside it. This is the tradition here.



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A Yambol Ghost

It was a single room in the centre of Yambol with an alley kitchen and wet room, it was damp but furnished with not just old furniture but cheap in a league well below MFI standards.

The bed was a well-worn sofa and fractured metal protruding like a badly made bed of nails. It was a good job that cardboard box wasn’t used back home as a fire starter as it was handy as a mattress. No cooker or no fridge, it was very basic living but it was winter so the wet room could pass quite easily as my fridge for a few months. The cooking on my camping gas system brought over from the UK came into its own. It was somewhere to base myself and not have to worry about travelling to work and back in the car, time and petrol\gas cost were behind me now.

Well the place was cheap and convenient but somehow it felt strange there on the first visit and the wonder as to why someone else hadn’t snapped it up for its position in the dead centre of town and a rent of about £7 a week!

It was when I moved in that things started to happen and my thought turned to the reasons I’m here and no one else! Entering the three-door passageway on reaching the top of the stairs a chill fell over me A sudden tingly spine and a slight apprehension about going onto the apartment. Trying to ignore this was difficult but it was my home during the week now and this was where I intended to stay for the foreseeable future.

Even with a few of my personal possessions in the apartment now it still felt as if this wasn’t my place. In the first evening this feeling that I was being watched increased to a point that by the time I lay on my bed of nails I was positively scared.

That first night was horrendous, there were no curtains in the one room and I could see the lamp lit tree in the street motionless so I knew there was no wind. So why were the windows in the kitchen door rattling? Other rattles and knocks and scratching from different parts of the room started, it was a night of commotion and activity in the apartment in contrast to the calm street Yambol High Street outside.

This went on all night and my mind working overtime trying to work out a sensible reasoning behind this happening. At one point I felt something that just seemed to lean on my feet, jumping up, there was nothing there but a shadow moved as this happened. I was at my tether’s end and had the light on for the rest of the night!

The morning couldn’t come too soon and it didn’t end there on my white sheet there was a blood stain that travelled through the foam mattress underneath, through the cardboard box and a drip on the floor underneath the bed. This was where I felt the presence near my feet. I check my body for signs of it there but couldn’t see anything from me. I was beside myself fearing another night here

I knew for a fact this place had a guest, I knew for a fact this apartment had history and I knew for a fact that in my own mind now that this apartment was haunted!

My conclusion was backed up every night thereon. The rattling door continued some night but other things happen every night, usually at around 2-3 o’clock. Shadows moving, the display cabinet glass door suddenly would rattle even though it was magnetically shut and secure. One night I actually saw a vase slightly shift on the windowsill. Knocking on wood and scratching sounds were common and then there was the heavy footsteps in the corridor and a knock on the adjoining wall, even though all the three doors were locked with no access the to anyone else but me!

At this stage I was petrified and on the point of moving out of the apartment; I just couldn’t cope with the sleepless nights and fear of being in the apartment alone, even during the day. I had nowhere else to go so a strong constitution was instilled as I decided to accept the goings on there. In my mind the thought that this guest hadn’t actually done me any harm, all I had to do was come to terms with it in my head.

As the days went by I talked to the moving shadows and asked the rattling door to ‘keep it down’ as I was trying to sleep. The footsteps outside and the bloodstains didn’t happen again but I knew when this character was around. I knew for sure the every night at around 2-3 in the morning the room would suddenly drop in temperature to become chilly and then things would begin to happen. At these times I just automatically wake up like an alarm clock had gone off. Now awake I would just tell the Bulgarian ghost to, ‘Shut up!’ or ‘Stigger (stop)!’ and usually the goings on would also cease or at least calm down a bit.

I had been living there for three months now alongside this Bulgarian ghost; we have an understanding now. He can stay around as long as he’s not too noisy. No footsteps outside, no vases moving and no more bloodstains on the bed! I had threatened him with a priest to perform exorcise on an occasion, this must have turned the fear table on the ghost as this seemed to frighten him away for a few nights. But he did return and I end up apologising not to get on the bad side and give reason for him to seek revenge.

We got on fine, in fact we ended up pretty good friends with our time together, when we left the apartment it was quite a shame we had to leave the ghost!

And Galia, she doesn’t believe a word of it, although I do believe that she didn’t want to believe any of it. She after all was witness to so many of these instances herself!

Well all Bulgarians are indeed very friendly, including their ghosts!

A Bulgarian in England

It was back to Bulgaria as Galia and I boarded the plane, this time we prayed it would be forever. The experience we had there was horrendous, more so for Galia, who had so much high expectation of the country before she got there. Not entirely due to the country but the situation we were in.

We couldn’t afford to pay rent and work to save and Galia had to work cash in hand as legally she wasn’t allowed to work there. This meant we had to stay with family, entirely grateful for their help and support but they are impossible to live with, especially my Dad, who hates anyone who isn’t rich and speak Greek whether family or otherwise. Galia and I were in that category. He is old, has Parkinson’s disease and angina but that is no excuse for being racist especially to his own family.

The bottom line was we couldn’t wait to get to Bulgaria we would rather be there penniless than stressed, ill and exhausted with a bit of money in the bank in the UK. There wasn’t any argument about that at all it was a unanimous decision form us both and all who knew us except the immediate family who we were with who needed us to stop the house becoming a dirty mouse/rat infested pit.

Ninety-nine percent of the time we were confined to the house, my Dad had to have non-stop supervision and Galia was paid to watch over him 24/7. The idea was that my brother, when he wasn’t working would give us some rest bite.

It took me a month to find a job in the UK after being advised to go to the job centre, they wouldn’t pay me Job Seekers Allowance due to me being out of the country for two years (no National Insurance paid). It would have been far better to just approach employers direct and after four weeks being pissed about by them.

It was my original intention to go to the UK to work for a couple of months each winter and live of the earning for the remainder of the year. This was fine in principle but a month had elapsed and with no job no earning had been made, we were worse off than when we first got there! So the couple of months now turned into and extended 3-4 months.

All this time Andriko was preaching, stay a year of two, just work and stash your money away. His idea, has and always will be about making money, he doesn’t know when to stop, there is always another hurdle of greed for him to straddle when the put in front of him. The finishing line is never ever in sight.

Andriko came up with the idea of becoming a black cab driver, the idea of making thousands in the space of a month of so was his only vision. I followed along these lines and applied and bought a moped for the knowledge. The thought of two to three years learning the knowledge suddenly hit me after the extensive paperwork having been completed and the £150 cheque being written out and the medical being taken. I decided that the money bait that was always being thrown at me wasn’t’ worth the stress and abandoned the idea.

Then it was Andriko’s idea that I become a bus driver, I would get my PSV license and be able to come back each winter and walk into a driving job without fuss. I wasn’t too sure about this. I agree in principle that buses are good for the environment and I enjoy driving but the stress driving a London Bus is awful. It was also being thrown heavily into the media about the disrespect younger Brits have towards bus drivers and other bus travelling passengers.

I originally applied at Harlow and passed the initial test drive and written test and test drive and was due to start training but Andriko then suggested that a London Bus company was better as it paid more! I then went to Edgware bus Garage and went through the same procedure ready to start training. I had the moped to get to the garage but again re thought the situation.

It job that involved hardly any stress that was what I wanted and not too worried about how much they paid as our overheads were low and we could save for Bulgaria quite effectively. So the bus driving idea was ditched. I would have been happy driving country routes but it was too far to commute.

That same week the offer came in to work for Asda in Hatfield, without any help from the Job Centre. The interviews and screen came and went and I started on the night shift where I had to move stock from the warehouse to the shop floor for other staff to shelf fill. This was heavy and physical work and I liked it. There was no stress in involved but I got less than £1000 net each month for working 46 hours a week (night work don’t forget.) Of the 25 staff there I was the only Englishman apart from the manger.

I could also travel to work on a bicycle, which makes me even more happy although I have to ride through a rough area and have eyes at the back of my head to look out for muggers.

Three months on and I change jobs to Tesco warehouse, they offer me more money, less hours and even closer to home. I got the job because I worked there before and had a good history. For 32 hours I earn well in excess of £1000 in my pocket each month and still stress free work but still on nights. The work was mind numbingly boring but the thought of Bulgaria was always driving me forward. This is where I was until we returned to Bulgaria, we decided to come back in an instant and I didn’t even give them a day notice for leaving!

Galia on the other hand God bless her, was stuck at the house with my Dad who clearly didn’t have any respect for her due to her position of poverty and lack of Greek and English language. What did she go through during the last six months only she can tell. Added to which there were ghosts and spirits every night in the upstairs room where she tried to sleep. I was working night and she had company every night I worked. The door used to unlock and open. There was knocking on the walls and figures walking from one end of the bedroom to the other. Galia just used to hide under the covers shaking with fear. How I feel for her in these situations but wherever in the house she slept there were spirit and ghost wondering. Both my Dad and Andriko are witnesses to this during the night.

Funny but even I see cupboard opening in the kitchen and heard lots of knocking when I was in the house alone but never really thought much about it until after the event and all revealed their sightings!

In the living room where 16 hours a day Galia sat supervising my Dad, the radio was blaring out Greek music and the television blaring out bland English TV programmes mainlyg based around the cost of housing and antiques, all money based and materialistic of course, what did you expect. When it wasn’t those programmes it was the news, all bad news of murders, mugging and political crap. Galia often couldn’t believe the lack of respect for police and authority especially from youngsters.

We used to cater for the household as part of the thank you for putting us up but if it wasn’t’ pizza or a convenience food with all the chemical designed to make it tasty the food was defined as rubbish. Mind you so called the supermarket fresh food such as vegetables, salads and fruit tasted as bland as cardboard so the food even thought with the same ingredients as Bulgarian based recipes just didn’t touch the quality you would get in Bulgaria, it was all imported and artificially cultured. I grew to love tomatoes in Bulgaria but once again got to hate tomatoes as I used to once back in England.

Wasted food is what goes on here and this was difficult to live with, the food we prepared and served invariably didn’t get eaten as it was termed as rubbish so it got thrown away. No chickens, pigs, goats or dogs to feed them to, just straight in the bin along with all the other wasted packaging material that had no reuse in the home or garden. Trying to come to terms wit this was extremely hard especially for Galia who was brought up on recycling and minimum waste.

We couldn’t invite any of my friends to the house, as my Dad would just question how much money they earn and put me down in front of them so it was a barren place for socialising. On the rare occasion we did get out of the house and risk Andriko being there with Dad, we only ventured to the nearest town Hatfield or Potters Bar just to get some fresh air and let Galia stretch her legs walking around the second-hand and charity shops which she enjoyed immensely.

The six months there we never went out to a restaurant or fast food place purely down to cost, quality and taste is another matter. A pub was visited and was the venue for my best friend asking me to be his Best Man at his wedding in May. At the time I accepted and was quite taken aback with being asked. Even the commitment of this couldn’t hold us back for that extra month to see the wedding out – we had to go!

The final day couldn’t come quick enough as we took just 20 minutes to pack our belongings, we had been living out of one suitcase for six months anyway. The experience of England for me again and for Galia for the first time will forever stick in our minds and that enough is reason never to return again.

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Outside Toilets Preferred

It is with some mystery as to why people chose outside toilets in preference to the indoor purpose built system that we now have in civilised parts of the world. The reason this is even being mentioned is the countless time I see Bulgarians use nature as the choice for relieving themselves.

The first time this was noticed was in my own Skalitsa farmhouse, where there is a renovated extension as the bathroom with all the modern facilities within. Guests, Bulgarian guests that is, refuse absolutely to use my toilet, they either use my outside toilet in the field or in some cases go round the back of the house to the stable and relief themselves by a wall or rain drainage point. This I can understand to a degree as many guests in the village aren't used to using inside toilets and a few never even seen one!

Skalitsa village toilet habits are one thing but in the town of Yambol, you would think that inside toilets would be a common choice for townies. That's what I thought at first, then it became quite clear that this didn't hold up well from the evidence that was seen around.

The first instance was Bulgarian women not using the restaurant toilets, but wait until we walk home then use the side of an apartment block wall with me as the lookout. Home with the inside toilet is only a couple of metres away but they choose the street. This is not a one off instance but done on a regular basis.

Walking in the park, they choose the bushes, even when we had a name day party in the park the inside toilets weren't used but the bushes by the women and the Tundzha River by the men.

Even by the bus garage where there are public toilets, you will find that most will walk straight by these and use the wall around the back. There is a good reason for that though, there is a fee to use the inside toilets!

Driving anywhere with guests, they choose to stop and relieve themselves by the side of the road rather than wait until we get to our destination or home, even if the journeys are very short.

In the house we have a lovely inside toilet and often sit outside in the front yard/garden. I have lost count how many times our Bulgarian household use the drain by the wall or the bucket that sits under the outside tap as a toilet. Not only do the house members use this but other guests and neighbours do exactly the same thing. There is no stigma attached by doing this, no scruples or embarrassment.

To the Bulgarians going to the toilet is very much an activity that has to be done and they will not bat an eyelid seeing someone relieving themselves in public, you see it all the time here, Bulgarian men reliving themselves by the side of a car they have parked with a stream of traffic driving past. The Bulgarian women are a bit more discreet but then I suppose they have to be.

It seems this fashion is built into Bulgarian culture, perhaps to save on water. Behind that reason, it does make sense not to waste gallons of water when not necessary. From that point I find myself occasionally doing the same thing away from inside toilet locations. Holding on painfully just doesn't seem worth it if there are trees or a quiet spot around. What harm is it doing anyway? There is more harm flushing a toilet, that's for sure; Bulgarians are so practical.

An Evil Bulgarian Water Meter Reader

It isn’t very often that you get to meet people of this kind. A surreal personality you only see in films or read about in fiction and horror books. The characteristics are a mixture of bad elements all put together in a melting pot and throws an umbrella of curse around.

In Skalitsa, if you mention the rude meter-reader and that’s all she is, the response you get is, ‘Ah Da! Everyone know her but that’s not unusual in Skalitsa, everyone knows everyone else, what they really know her for is her extreme rudeness which is why the response to referring to the rude adjective when they say ‘Ah Yes!’

White frilly hat and white wedding dress just doesn’t fit the bill here. It is just a wolf in sheep clothing, a fa├žade that hides a woman who has no regard for politeness or etiquette. In here eye no one is equal, all are below here and her status as meter-reader.

The handbag she carries, the strap supporting the bag of whatever women keeps in there. The handbag itself is large and hangs by her hips just like a gun holster always ready for action. The last tine I saw her it was high noon, imagine the picture of her getting bigger as she makes her way to my house and then the pause…..

There is a walk that is slightly less than a shuffle in what could be described as a laboured shuffle; very carefully she choosing small steps and is fully aware where her next step is going to go. This is done in a very economical way never at any point does is a step taken without a purpose. She deliberately only walks as far as she needs, to direct the ‘lower class’ under her presence. Someone else does the walking for her in areas that might put her in a standing of a ‘worker’ or indeed soil her wolf’s clothing and accessories.

We never see many stone statues in Skalitsa; there is a very good reason for this. The meter-reader wears sunglasses all the time. No one as far as I know has seen her eyes. She uses this as a threat, for when confronted or challenged there is a little drop of the frames, and the threat of an un-tinted peer. This is usually enough to threaten the hardest mercenary. I fear to wonder is anyone has challenged her enough for the sunglasses to be removed.

The chicken, geese and ducks in the street suddenly disappear as she turns into the street. She looks ahead all the time, just like her deliberate steps. She looks out or should I say 'stares' out people as she approaches houses, the air suddenly turns cold and an uncomfortable atmosphere of intimidation comes into play.

Then there is the clipboard; this has no function whatsoever. It is part of the uniform she has created and a tool for power. The reason is quite clear by her holding a tatty book where the entries of the water meter reading are entered. The clipboard is never used!

She never walks alone always accompanied by a well-known man in the village called Boncho. He is as wide as he is tall and is in charge of the cooperative milk store on the corner. Never have you met such a jolly cheerful chap, if you have a water problem he is the man to see. He could be deemed as another Skalitsa maestro and if you know about the countless Skalitsa maestros then you know what is work is like.

When Boncho is with this woman, he is under her spell, she controls every action he takes, other than calling out water meter numbers, he doesn’t talk but just acts obediently to everything the meter-reader says. His personality completely changes from a bubbly over talkative outgoing person into a humble nervous wreck. Hard to believe this actually happens to such a man who away from the meter-reader has a personality as large as his figure.

The pointing and directing without moving is always prevalent, she is stationary conducting everyone else around her; no please, no thank you, do this, do that, come here, go there. This goes on before she turns her back on everyone just looking out for the next step she is about to take, the next house she is to invade and fine tune the aim on the next victim she will claim. No goodbye and Boncho following her in the dark shadow she casts.

This woman is a woman of ill repute to all who have encountered her and encounter is exactly how is it. The first encounter with her was made a few months of having lived here. No water bills had been made as I was still finding my feet in Bulgaria but that didn’t sway her attitude at all. The meter was read out by Boncho and he was instructed to tell me that there was a water bill to be paid on my house and five years worth of water bills on my other house across the road that used to be owned by Gypsies. I had only bought them a few months ago but it was total insistence form her that I pay the bills. I found out legally I was not liable, she must know this but she still went ahead with her demands still not speaking to me directly but through a messenger service and the changed personality of Boncho.


Now this woman, and I still don’t know her name has been a scourge upon the Skalitsa community for some while now. More recently she has shown blatant racism with regard to the foreign influx in Skalitsa. The fire in her tongue when confronted with here attitude had scalded another expatriate here. The scalding was to such a degree that the person in the firing line wrote to her superiors in Yambol both in English and in Russian to try and expel the racist out of her job or at least put here in correction with at least and apology.

“The English think they can do what they want here” was one of the quotes that were made from what she said. With any inkling of misunderstanding she uses that as a lever of insult to expatriates here, me included.

The result of the letter of complaint was? Nothing! I saw here a year on, still with the same outfit, sunglasses and attitude n fact probably more fired up for insults to expatriates in her path from the result of this. To be fair, I couldn’t see anyone telling her to apologise to an expatriate let alone give her the sack.

Galia and I were waiting at the Skalitsa bus stop and she was there, off duty but still in her unlikely work-clothes, accessories and sunglasses talking to another woman also waiting for the bus. From what Galia told me all she was doing was complaining about customers she has, in particular expatriates who apparently think they should get priority treatment here thinking they are ‘Lords of the Manor.’ The poor woman on the receiving end of this didn’t get a word in edge wards and to compound it got lumbered with sitting next to her on the bus. The poor woman was being hit with verbal battering ram from probably the worse personality in Skalitsa.

On reflection to look at this woman now compared with how she was seen a few years ago marks a big change is my viewpoint of her. Initially she upset me by her intimidating behaviour and complete disregard for public relations. Fresh in Bulgaria not knowing much about anything here, she was the last person on earth I wanted on my threshold throwing threats from a distance. Now I just look with interest at this ogre of a woman and just accept that’s what she is, she is not important to anyone other than herself and fits the part of a clown. Taking her seriously is not an option; I just look and listen but don’t react or retaliate to her party tricks of devilment. How much have I have changed since coming to Bulgaria!

So just like the police, the fear factor keeps order in the water word department in Skalitsa. All water bills are paid on time, the management keep order on all matters through dictatorship. It works!

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Another Bulgarian Meal to Remember

Another day, another routine and another adventure just waiting to happen in Bulgaria. Never a day goes by without an event that amazes, shocks or makes you so thankful about life here. Today was just another one of those occasions.

A daily routine has now been established from Monday to Friday but the word routine has a sense of paleness about it. Perhaps we should throw that word into a different make up reflecting a new angle. A daily routine of experiences and adventures are discovered each day in Bulgaria and today is no exception.

The mental and physical clock had struck 12:00 with the signal of food and lunch beckoning. Baba as always was there but unlike most Bulgarians she is always very punctual, especially at meal times, which is her domain. There may be a reason behind this as she has to take her tablets after meals at regular intervals and 12:00 is one of those times.

It is always a guessing game every day by trying to discover what she is going to present at lunchtime. The clues are the evening before where she sometimes spend hours sitting outside in the garden or in the backroom with the garden view, preparing natural ingredients for the next days meals. Whether it is peeling potatoes, mincing meat, sorting the beans, stripping the garlic, chopping the onions or countless other cooks chores; the first clue is here. Ingredients are always prepared the evening before.

The second part of the detective work is the smell in the kitchen mid morning. The cooking would have been started early on and the aromas that waft around the house, just like that trail in the Bisto Gravy advert during the 1970’s. It isn’t very hard to put both clues together and not be far off the mark.

Today I knew there were some peas involved as the previous evening we had Baba’s daughter-in-law in the garden with her helping shelling the peas, picked that very evening. Galia and I had collected them and brought them home from the factory grounds where Galia works. They grow a magnitude of fruit and vegetables there, which when harvested and in turn supplied to the workers there and their families. What’s more having been there on a daily basis to drop off and collect Galia I knew that all the food produced on that ‘factory farm’ is chemical free.

So, organic peas were on the menu for sure but what else? There was a distinct smell of something stewing that next morning, something meaty and wholesome for certain. Baba had never disappointed in the food stakes here ever.

A call was made, ‘Martin, Mundger!’ The food was ready as I trod the ceramic floor into the kitchen and sat down at the ever ready laid table. It was always a table to two as pairs of cutlery, napkins and complete bulbs of raw garlic also from the factory farm placed enthusiastically with comment about how good it is for you, on the table. A glass of freshly made Ayran was poured into the glasses. Knowing where the food had come from and with the knowledge that not one chemical is contained within is a major leap in the enjoyment of food and drink in Bulgaria.

This particular Ayran was made from sheep milk brought back from Skalitsa village and turned into homemade yoghurt in Yambol. Then mixed with water and salt producing the most wonderful Aryan you could ever imagine and complimented the garlic sitting beside it.

The bread, again bought daily made in Yambol and bought daily. It has to be bought daily as it goes off quickly in the warm Bulgarian weather as it is absent of preservatives. Two days maximum for local bread here. On the the second day Baba uses the old bread next morning to dip into her daily dose of linden tea (another story.)

So we have Ayran, garlic and bread, so far so good. The main dish was about to be served and I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. When it did arrive it was certainly different to anything I had seen before. Yes, there were peas but the amount of peas was the surprise. A whole large soup dish of peas as a bed for chicken, the peas were used just like rice and yet again the local herbs and chicken stock it was cooked in was spectacular in so many senses Smell, sight and taste all combined into something that can only be described as very memorable today at lunchtime.

The chicken used was also from Skalitsa, one of my own, I knew its history therefore this completes a meal that remained completely free of any additive, preservative or whatever they put in and we don’t know. The combinations of tastes just hit the mark, but it wasn’t complicated food it was very basis simple ingredients added together into a feast of fed senses.

Baba had inspired yet again! The learning curve took a steep gradient today in how simple food can be so successful.

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